See them soon on national park safari
Nitya Kaushik Posted: Nov 12, 2008 at 0317 hrs
Mumbai, November 11 Two newly born royal Bengal tigers, currently being raised with utmost care in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), will soon become the star attraction of the park’s tiger safari rides. One-and-half months from now, the park officials plan to let out the cubs in the secondary cage along with their mother, 9-year-old Basanti, for the viewing pleasure of visitors.
Bengal tigers are highly endangered animals, with an estimated population of between 1,300 and 1,500 in wild in India. However, conservationists say, captive births are inconsequential as it is almost impossible to rehabilitate the big cats.
The two fluffy, new flaming orange cubs — a male and a female — were born on October 7, to Basanti and Palash (both 9). The cubs have not been weighed, named or handled by humans yet, and currently occupy a makeshift den created in one of the tiger cages. They spend most of their time feeding and huddling with their mother, the tiger safari handlers said.
According to SGNP wildlife vet, Dr Vinaya Jangale, infection and deaths are very high among tiger cubs, whether in wild or in captivity. “However, the first month after its birth is usually the most tenuous, and now there is a high chance that both the cubs will survive,” she said.
Among the first threats to the cubs, she stated, was climactic changes. “Their resistance to the weather is very weak. For an entire month, we monitored their den by providing a heater at night and cooler in the day. Since their eyes were closed for the first few days, we had to ensure that light doesn’t filter into their cages. A slight glare can affect their vision,” she explained.
Instructions were also given to handlers to not touch the cubs, for the fear of being rejected by their mother. “The olfactory senses or tigers are very sharp. The mother may refuse to feed or attend to the babies if she gets a human scent from them,” she explained.
As the cubs’ sole diet is their mother’s milk, handlers are now supplementing Basanti’s meals with vitamins, Jangale said. “She gets two live chickens to eat every day aside from her regular beef diet. Also we supplement her intake with extra doses of calcium and vitamins added to her water.”
In the wild, cubs remain attached to their mother for nearly two-and-a-half months so that they can fully cultivate their skills to prey, but according to Jangale, captive tigers could be separated in just one-and-a-half months. When the two SGNP cubs complete three months, they will be administered their first vaccine shots she added.
With the birth of the two new cubs the park has a total of 10 tigers, and just two lions. Now, officials have plans to exchange two other tigers for a pair of Asiatic lions from Gir. “Provided that cubs survive their early days, we will try to exchange an older tiger couple for lions. We are in correspondence with Gir as well as some other zoos for it,” Jangale said.
However, Kishore Rithe, a wildlife conservationist working at the Melghat Tiger Reserve, dismissed the news of the tiger births in SGNP stating that birth of the big cats in captivity doesn’t help in reversing the dwindling tiger population of the country.
“While certain animals like the vultures can be bred in captivity and then re-introduced to the wild, tigers can’t be rehabilitated. As far as conservation of the species is concerned, captive tigers have no future. In fact, when we count the tiger population in India, we don’t even include captive tigers in it.”